This post is adapted from last year, with new links to upcoming services.
Shofar blast! The Jewish High Holy Days begin extraordinarily early this year. Rosh Hashanah starts on the evening of September 4th, and Yom Kippur on the evening of September 13th. Autumn sends many interfaith families in search of a spiritual home. Some of us find shelter in Unitarian-Universalist communities, or in Quaker or Baha’i or Buddhist practice. For those who want to give children a specific (though not necessarily exclusive) Jewish education and identity, at least two different options now exist in many places. Jewish communities have become more inclusive and welcoming to interfaith families. And at the same time, independent and intentional interfaith communities for families practicing and teaching both Judaism and Christianity are growing. Links to find services for the Days of Awe through all of these communities are found below.
Many Jewish communities are beginning to understand that some interfaith families will have Christmas trees, will celebrate Christian holidays with extended family, will, on some level, always be interfaith families, even if the non-Jewish spouse agrees to raise Jewish children. Jewish religious educators and clergy have set up new programs to serve these families, and have become more skilled in creating warm and appreciative pathways for interfaith families choosing membership in Jewish communities, whether or not the Christian (or Muslim, or Hindu, or Buddhist) spouse converts to Judaism.
What you will not find in these Jewish interfaith family programs is the support and advice of Christian clergy, or education in Christianity for your children. And partly in response to these limitations, intentional, independent interfaith communities began to grow in many cities across the country in the 1980s, fueled by families with a desire to provide literacy in both religions for children, and spiritual support for both spouses.
The High Holy Day services these interfaith communities provide, or the Jewish services they attend as a group, are not a mixture of the two religions. They are traditional services, chosen or designed to be as welcoming and inclusive as possible, and celebrated by interfaith families together as a group sharing profound respect for both religions.
In New York, intermarried couples first designed their own High Holy Day services led by interfaith families in Manhattan in the 1980s, and those services continue today. Now, families from the Interfaith Community chapters in Manhattan, Long Island, Westchester, Orange/Bergen/Rockland Counties, Danbury, Connecticut, and Boston gather to celebrate together, both at their own events, and with local Jewish communities.
In Chicago, Jewish and Catholic families have been teaching children both religions since 1993. In downtown Chicago, families from the Interfaith Family School and the Jewish Catholic Couples Dialogue Group, and suburban interfaith families from the Interfaith Union, gather together at local synagogues for the High Holy Days.
And in Washington DC, my own community, the Interfaith Families Project, now provides a full set of four traditional, progressive High Holy Day services specifically designed by and for interfaith families, led by Rabbi Harold White, the retired chaplain of Georgetown University. New this year, there will be a specific children’s service for Rosh Hashanah as well. Families from our community have also launched an interfaith community in the Philadelphia area. Join them for Rosh Hashanah apple-picking this year.
Each fall provides a new chance to connect with other interfaith families, to begin religious education for your children, to discover or rediscover the beauty of the Jewish holidays. As the days grow shorter, return, renew, rejoice in the many options for interfaith families.